Career Advice

How to Ask for Time Off During Lockdown Without Feeling Guilty

Mary Grace Garis

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Earlier this year, I asked to keep my planned vacation days with hesitation and apology thick in my voice. In what’s become running joke, 2020 was supposed to be my #TravelYear, with short trips planned for March, April, May and June. So when my first would-be long weekend rolled around during the first wave of mass layoffs, and I felt like my mind was unraveling, I felt powerfully guilty. Nobody tells you how to ask for time off during a global pandemic.

The ability to ask for time off right now isn’t a luxury afforded to everyone. Essential workers, people maintaining the frontlines, people who simply need the money—they do not get time off right now. Not everyone’s life in lockdown looks the same. But if the only thing holding you back is guilt, if you have vacation days in reserve, and/or if your life is a locust plague of responsibilities, take a breath. ”

“You should absolutely ask for, and take time off, during these tough times,” says career coach Erin Hatzikostas. Keep in mind that almost everyone on the planet knows and feels the impact of this crisis to some degree, including your supervisor.

“[Your manager] is likely understands all-too-well that you’re not already ‘on vacation’ simply because you’re working from home,” says Hatzikostas. “Also, by requesting and taking this time off, you’ll inspire your boss to do the same—remember, they’re human, too. It’s more important than ever right now for people to understand that inspiration is a circular reference.”

But how do you do ask for time off mindfully and with regard to the shaky economic time that we’re in? Well, you first want to formally communicate a reason why you need a mental health day or small leave of absence. Let’s say right now you’re homeschooling your children and that’s become a huge new load to juggle, and you would love some time to figure out a more effective study schedule for them. Or maybe you’re dealing with a sick family member and would want some time to focus on that.

Or maybe, and this is the big one, you really just need a day to appreciate nature or watch Gossip Girl until you feel emotionally ready to look at a spreadsheet. It doesn’t matter, so long as clearly deliver that you’re doing this self-kindness with respect to both yourself and your workplace.

“Request the time in writing so you can present your ‘case’ clearly; this is as much for you as it is for your boss,” says Hatzikostas. “Mention you’d like to take X days off in order to restore yourself and come back energized and ready for the next sprint.”

If you can plan ahead, you also want to make sure your immediate responsibilities are taken care of and keep the lines of communication open in an absolute emergency. For example, if you’re going to repurpose a few days that would’ve been spent sunning in Florida to practice some serious TLC, let them know that you’ll be on top of your workload as best you can.

“Give them your cell phone to contact you in case of anything urgent, and ask your supervisor has any concerns or needs from you before you take your time off,” says Hatzikostas.

For example, let’s say I’m taking a day off Friday—what I need is to be mindful of my output during the lead-up to that. While we all deserve to give ourselves a break, its objectively unfair to drop all responsibilities and have co-workers pick up the slack. Once again, we’re all going through a tough time!

But generally, the biggest hurdle is getting over that initial fear of asking in the first place. Take solace in the fact that transparency and compassion can make this scary step easier. And then, take the day! Get a breath of fresh air! Let me know what happens to Chuck and Blair!

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